Friday, June 23, 2017

New York City Physical Education Spaces Get A Well Needed Boost

Bronx Health REACH is excited about the recent announcement from New York City Mayor de Blasio and city leadership to invest $385 million in capital funds to bring designated physical education (PE) space to all schools citywide as part of the Universal PE Initiative. The initiative includes 76 schools in the first phase. Thirteen of these schools are located in the Bronx.

In the Bronx, 43% of elementary school students are overweight or obese, higher than the rest of NYC boroughs. Lack of physical activity is a significant factor contributing to childhood obesity. To further investigate the link between high childhood obesity rates and physical education resources in the South Bronx, Bronx Health REACH (BHR) led a district-wide assessment of PE in 2015/16. The assessment looked at PE instruction and spaces in the South Bronx District 9 elementary schools.

The assessment revealed that 18 of the 24 schools (75%) had a gymnasium space to use for physical education. However, the 18 schools with gymnasiums encounter challenges in their existing space due to overcrowding and limited space. The remaining six schools (25%) are without gym space and are dependent on alternative spaces like classrooms, hallways and cafeterias for indoor physical activities.

BHR has met with, and will continue to work with the New York City Department of Education to meet the needs in schools for PE spaces. BHR has worked with several of the District 9 schools lacking PE space to implement active design projects that utilize small equipment and materials transforming areas in and around school buildings to promote physical activity at schools  like Grant Ave Elementary School which is bringing ‘Big Blue Blocks’ to turn  their empty yard into a play ground. While at PS 35 where students currently use the multipurpose room as a gym, the school is working to improve the space with art and play equipment.

In the next few years, PS 35 will see larger scale changes with a new gym space thanks to the Universal PE Initiative! The NYC Department of Education (DOE) and the School Construction Authority (SCA) will work with schools to explore options that ensure all students have access to PE space. The DOE offers several solutions including constructing new gymnasiums, converting/enhancing existing spaces for fitness, renovating playgrounds, converting auditoriums into gyms, or leasing space from nearby community-based organizations.

Recent legislation has addressed other aspects of PE access in NYC schools. In 2015, the NYC Council passed Local Law 102 that requires NYC DOE to make publically available, an assessment of PE programs offered at all NYC schools. In 2016, the Mayor allocated $100 million for 500 newly licensed PE teachers through the PE Works Program (a 19% increase) and “Move to Improve,” a classroom-based PE program. Equitable school physical education, both instruction and physical spaces, could reduce the disparity in childhood obesity.

It cannot be overstated the important role schools have in the fight to reduce childhood obesity. New York public school students spend an estimated 1,200 hours in school each year. School physical education is a critical factor in not only improving their health but also in their academic achievements. The city’s commitment to NYC school gym spaces is an investment in the current and future health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers.

To learn more:

Read the press release describing the new plan

Read more about PE city-wide.

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